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How Fairtrade Is Changing The Chocolate World

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Once a niche affair, Fairtrade chocolate is moving into the mainstream, with Fairtrade chocolate products widely available, now found on sale in newsagents, garage counters and supermarkets as well as health food shops and delicatessens.  Since 2008, Fairtrade chocolate’s share of the UK chocolate retail market has increased from one per cent to a healthy 10 per cent.

Francis Bediako drying cocoa beans
Francis Bediako drying the cocoa beans. Francis is a member of Kuapa Kokoo, the co-operative that co-owns Divine Chocolate. Photo credit: Kim Naylor

The relationship between chocolate and Fairtrade in the UK is a long one, dating back to the early days of the Fairtrade movement.

“The first ever Fairtrade-certified product in the UK was our Maya Gold chocolate bar which was launched in 1994,” says Neil La Croix, Head of Sustainability at chocolate manufacturers Green & Black’s, which is now owned by Kraft Foods.  It was Craig Sams, who had  founded Green & Black’s in 1991, who had the idea for producing a Fairtrade chocolate bar.

“He was visiting Belize and met a group of Belizean cocoa farmers. They’d planted cocoa at the behest of a large chocolate company which then decided not to be involved in primary agriculture and withdrew, so the farmers were left with cocoa trees and nowhere to sell the cocoa,” explains La Croix. “Craig saw the opportunity and because he was aware of Fairtrade and the principles behind it, such as a minimum price and a long-term contract for the growers, he thought these would be the ideal basis for the contract. We’re still working with the same farmers today, nearly 20 years later.”

The cocoa used in Green & Black’s chocolate is made using Trinitario beans, with their “distinctive, deep complex flavour,” sourced from both Belize and the Dominican Republic.  Neil La Croix feels that the Fairtrade route offers a chance to combine responsible sourcing with maintaining quality.

“There are Fairtrade contractual arrangements, but because of our requirements for quality we’ve always worked very closely with our cocoa suppliers anyway. We find to get the best out of our quality requirements you need that rapport relationship with the farmers. We have a specific ‘recipe’  in terms of fermentation and drying. One of the key things with cocoa is to get it quickly from the pod into controlled fermentation. If the beans are hanging around in a sack for several days, the flavour can be adversely affected. We have these requirements and it’s important that the farmers understand them and buy into them.”

The first chocolate company to be 100% Fairtrade is also a success story in the UK. Divine Chocolate is also the only mainstream chocolate company co-owned by its cocoa farmer suppliers. “Divine was the brainchild of the Kuapo Kokoo co-operative of cocoa farmers,” explains Rosanna Mayhew, P.R. Manager of Divine.

“It was the farmers themselves who at their AGM in 2007 voted to set up their own chocolate company. A year later, Divine was launched in the UK. As majority shareholders of Divine, Kuapa Kokoo has two represntatives on the board and they attend all four board meetings each year, one of which is held in Ghana. This way the co-operative has a direct say in the running of the chocolate company in which they have a 45% stake.”

Ever since their launch, Divine has aimed at being a competitively-priced, mass market Fairtrade chocolate. “We want as many people as possible to experience Divine,” declares Mayhew. “By competing with some of the biggest names in the crowded chocolate and confectionery market, Divine has proven that a better way of doing business is possible on a large scale.”

Recent years have seen the big players in the chocolate world begin to move into Fairtrade,  with Kraft Food’s Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar and Nestle’s four-bar KitKat both now made from Fairtrade chocolate.  “We always encourage companies to become involved in Fairtrade,” explains Eileen Maybin, Head of Media Relations at Fairtrade, “We would like to see more and more companies offer a Fairtrade option in their portfolio so more and more farmers could benefit from selling on Fairtrade terms.”

For Maybin the benefits to the cocoa farmers from being part of a Fairtrade system are clear. “Cocoa farmers face challenges on many fronts: fluctuating cocoa prices, ageing, unproductive cocoa trees, increased fuel and transport costs and lack of negotiating power in the supply chain. Fairtrade standards include a  guaranteed minimum price and an additional premium for farmers and their organisations to invest in business improvements, community projects and environmental projects.”

Green & Black’s La Croix has seen for himself the benefits for cocoa growers of the Fairtrade system. “I’ve seen fantastic examples of what the premium can do, from an IT centre in the Dominican Republic to water pumps and piping systems . The good thing is that it’s the actual growers and their associations themselves who are deciding how to use the premium. They utilise it to fulfil whatever needs the community has, often water distribution.”

Simon Wright, of GO*DO Chocolate,  has a long experience of Fairtrade chocolate, having helped launch Green & Black’s trailblazing Maya Gold Fairtrade bar and advised on the launch of Divine. He feels that Fairtrade chocolate has a deep-rooted emotional appeal for the consumer. “Chocolate is an inessential part of our diet. We eat chocolate for pleasure and I think the people like to think that while they’re indulging themselves, they’re doing good at the same time. It’s a balancing act.”

Cecelia Appianim holding a Divine chocolate bar
Cecelia Appianim, member of Kuapa Kokoo, holding a bar of Divine. Photo credit: Divine Chocolate Ltd

Looking ahead, Wright feels that in ten years time  “some ethical dimension to most chocolate is likely. The reason is that it combines helping consumers feel good about their purchase with the hard-edged supply chain concerns of ensuring that these companies have continuing supplies of high-quality chocolate.  I have no problems with multinationals going down the ethical sourcing route for their own interest because at the end of the day it still means farmers getting a better share. In the world we live in, I see Fairtrade as restorative action, very much a way of levelling the playing field.”

Do you look for the Fairtrade logo when buying chocolate, or do you consider other factors? Let us know in the comments below.

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